To Check, or not to check: that is the question

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end…” – William Shakespeare

I hope none of you take the decision around luggage this seriously.  However, this week I watched a whole new level of chaos that may just change the way I think about checking forever.

A family of four walked on the plane only minute before the door was to be shut.  Mom, Dad, a 2 year old, and a toddler.  Mom has three large bags in tow.  Dad is carrying a large baby seat…and the toddler.  They are of course, the last to board.  There is no overhead bin space and two of the bags are too large to go under the seat.  What a quandary for this family for sure.  I am watching and thinking that I would never put myself in this position.

Where it gets more interesting is when the flight attendant told the mother they had to check the bags.  I was instantly sympathetic for the family as the mother started crying explaining that two of the bags had urns in them with the remains of her mother.  As I was in 1C, I got the direct eye contact and the guilt started pouring in.  No one was moving, no one was saying anything…everything had just stopped except for the tears falling down the mother’s face.

So, I stood up, removed my bag and told the agent to please check my bag, making enough room for the 2 bags that contained fragile content not suited for checking.  The guilt resided and I went back to playing backgammon as though nothing had happened.

After arriving to Boston, I was pleased to see my bag already on the belt as I walked through the doors.  I had no wait, no inconvenience, and helped a fellow passenger on their journey.

Now the question…to check or not to check.  My instinct after 13 years of traveling has always been to carry everything!  I pack so well, I can fit 5 days of clothes in my carry-on and not even need to iron! (ok, well, maybe a little steaming in the hotel bathroom). After this experience, my thoughts were mainly around giving the space, I don’t really need, to someone who really does.  I also started thinking about all the hassle associated with carrying this bag around for hours has on me.

There are so many inconveniences associate with carry-on bags.  First, I am always rushing to the gate to make sure I get overhead space.  I’m fighting with the bag when trying to find a place to eat dinner.  The elevator is always so slow at the lounge, forcing me to carry my heavy bag up several flights of stairs.  And half the time I’m on regional jets that make me gate side check anyway.  Why on earth do we do this?

Let’s face it, carrying on your bag is the norm for those of us who travel weekly.  I challenge you to try to check a couple times and share your experience.  I would bet that you’ll find the entire flying experience from security to deplaning to be a lot more relaxing and who knows, maybe you made someone else’s day for that truly fragile, sentimental, or valuable item that just can’t go down below.

10 Comments on “To Check, or not to check: that is the question

  1. First and foremost, how charitable of you to think of someone else! What a kind gesture to give your space in the overhead to that family. Next the reason I hear most for not checking one’s bag is fear of the bag getting lost. Maybe I am lucky, but in traveling as a consultant for over 20 years and checking my bag each and every time, my bag has been lost twice. One of the losses was on my trip home so it really didn’t matter that I got it the next day. Not bad odds!! Just thought I would share.


  2. I don’t travel nearly as much as you but I’m up to almost once a month. I always check to reduce the amount of stuff I have to drag with me (getting the free bags everywhere for being active duty helps, plus packing a uniform and civiies isn’t easy in a carryon). I’ve been a Delta flier my whole life and have only had a bag miss me once. After they began guaranteeing your bag on the belt within 20 minutes or you get miles I feel like the bags have been available much more quickly.

    American offered me a promotion for gold status this year which got me to give them a try. I may need to start carrying on because American’s timeliness is terrible. At DCA a few weeks ago it was easily 45 minutes after arrival before the bags were available. That’s my two cents.


  3. Nope. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t check a bag unless I absolutely must. Other than the not exactly theoretical chance of losing luggage, here are some less obvious reasons why:
    1. Rushing make a connection can become a fool’s errand. On more than one occasion, I made a flight that my luggage did not. On two of those occasions, my luggage didn’t show up until Wednesday, one day before I was to fly back home.
    2. Checked luggage will often disqualify you from one of the best perks of frequent flying – jumping an earlier flight. Finishing up early on Thursday can mean beating the rush home. Late afternoon flights on Thursday are often packed with fellow business travelers, sometimes with higher frequent flier status. Manage to make it to the airport at 2 for your 6pm flight? Try jumping an earlier one. Often, you are doing the airline a favor as the 2pm is likely undersold while the latter flight is oversold or filled with rebooking. Be aware, however, that the first question will always be: did you check any luggage? Answer yes and you are taking the later flight.
    3. Have to fly in on a Sunday night? Would love for your bag to already be in the carousel? Fuggetaboutit. Late evening baggage handlers are never very motivated to break a sweat unloading the last flight of the night. Especially if that flight landed two hours late. Not only are you stuck waiting for your bag, that wait may cost you a trip to the rental car counter if you are too delayed.


  4. I didn’t know you had a blog! Todd only does carry on because he travels so frequently! I only check because I basically pack everything in my closet!


    • Yep, the blog has been around for over 8 years, but I had to turn it off when at my last company. Back up and running. Well Todd knows the daily routine of dragging bags through the terminal…it’s just a thought. 🙂


  5. The key to checking your bag is not to pack anything in that bag that you cannot or do not want to lose. i have checked bags around the world and only lost one in 20 years. but when you lose important items it hits home really hard. for me it depends on the type of trip.


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